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27 August 2009, 12:22

Open source stars for Mac OS X: Part 2

Open source isn't just for Linux users, there are many excellent free open source applications available ready to run for Apple Mac OS X too. Part 2 of this 2 part feature takes a look at alternative audio, video, burning and encryption applications and much more.

by Chris von Eitzen

Mac OS X logo Default Mac OS X installations already include a variety of applications suitable for various tasks, but they may not be to the taste of every user. Great open source applications are available on every platform and the Mac is no exception. While the saying "you get what you pay for" may be true of many things, the wide variety of open source software available for the Mac proves that isn't necessarily the case for software.

Part one of open source stars for Mac OS X looked at some of the best web browsers, at messaging and email clients, at productivity applications and at graphics applications. Part two provides an overview of some of the best audio, video, burning and encryption applications, preference panes and much more. If you prefer to see what the applications we'll be discussing look like in action first, check out the slide show below.

Audio and Video

Mac's have long been a favourite computing platform for graphic design, video production and other creative endeavours. While they don't yet feature Blu-ray playback support, Mac's are still multimedia power houses and include a variety of audio and video editing programs in the iLife suite of applications included with all new Mac's, but there are other applications which many Mac users may not be aware of. The open source community has created a wide selection of Mac compatible and exclusive multi-media applications that every user should at least have a look at.

All Mac's come with Apple's QuickTime media player which integrates into iTunes, but there are a lot of formats which it doesn't support by default. Formerly called the VideoLAN Client, the VLC Media Player from the VideoLAN Project is an open source QuickTime alternative with wider format support for various audio and video formats. Initially released under the GPL in February of 2001, it was only at the beginning of July this year that it finally reached version 1.0. The VLC Media Player features support for a large variety of codecs and file formats, including encrypted DVD's and streaming protocol support. It can even playback the video content of incomplete, unfinished or damaged video files, such as those downloaded from BitTorrent. With the release of the 1.x branch of the popular player, support was added for the Media Keys on modern brushed aluminium Apple and MacBook keyboards. One thing to note, however, is that the latest 1.x releases do not support Mac OS X 10.4.x due to its "technical limitations." (Download - License: GPLv2)

Users looking for a more customisable alternative to Apple's bundled iTunes media player should take a closer look at Songbird. Songbird is an Mozilla-based media player that supports a range of skins that the project calls "plumages". Songbird can be customised to support new features using its included add-on mechanism, borrowed from the Firefox web browser and Thunderbird email client. Available add-ons range from adapted Firefox extensions and various view options, including the MediaFlow view, which is similar to CoverFlow in iTunes, to developer tools. Songbird can retrieve album artwork 'on-demand', sync with most iPods with the help of an an add-on and, like iTunes, it supports uninterrupted playback (also called gapless playback). The latest 1.2 release also adds support for 2-way syncing with iTunes, which is especially useful for users who purchase songs in the iTunes Music Store, and the ability to automatically organise library files across multiple folders based on track metadata, such as artist and album information. (Download - License: GPLv2)

Mac users wanting to record and mix or remix audio tracks should take Audacity for a spin. Audacity is an audio editor and recorder that can be used to record live audio, import Ogg VOrbis, MP3, WAV, or AIFF files, cut, copy and mix sounds together and alter the pitch of recorded audio. Its features include several different tools which can be used to remove background noises or add various effects, such as an echo or phasing. Audacity also supports different Virtual Studio Technology (VST) plug-ins and provides a spectrogram frequency analysis display, a window where the amount of energy at each of a number of frequency bands is represented. Recently, out of thousands of nominations, Audacity was voted as the Best Project for Multimedia during this years SourceForge Community Choice Awards. (Download - License: GPLv2)

Those wanting a simple, yet powerful, streaming client, but prefer not to use Songbird, should to try SweetFM. SweetFM features Mac specific functions, including support for the Apple Remote and Apple Keyboard media keys and was only recently released as open source. It includes integration with the iTunes music store, allowing users to purchase a song or album that they're playing with a single click. Previously, the client cost $29 for a license key to use the application, but it's now available to download for free. (Download - License: MIT)

Miro, formerly known as Democracy Player, is an HD Internet TV / podcast downloader and player that's been built with the aim of helping decentralise online video. It can subscribe to RSS feeds, seamlessly use its built-in BitTorrent client to download content and easily bookmark websites under the "Sites" category (, for example, is preloaded by default). The latest Miro 2.5 branch now launches two to four times faster compared to previous releases, adds a new button to download directly from YouTube and improves the handling of BitTorrent files. According to the developers, the 2.5 branch database layer of the application uses a simplified SQLite schema for "easier hacking" and developer documentation is provided. First time users may want to take a look at MiroGuide to find programmes to watch. Miro is sponsored by the non-profit Participatory Culture Foundation. (Download - License: GPLv2)

All Intel-based Mac's come with Front Row, Apple's media center software with a 10-foot interface, for simplified media playback. While Front Row features a simple interface, some users may prefer an alternative with more features, such as Plex. The Plex Media Center is a skinable fork of the XBMC Media Center for Mac OS X 10.5 that includes several customised additions to support a range of audio, video and image formats. Plex, which recently celebrated it's 100th plug-in, uses free plug-ins to get online content from various sources, including Video, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Joost and Netflix. (Download - License: GPLv2)

HandBrake is a multi-threaded video transcoder that can rip DVD's and convert various formats to several other formats, such as an MPEG-4 video file using the .mp4, .avi, .ogm or .mkv containers. HandBrake is a popular program for converting the content from DVDs into different formats so that it can be played on iPods, iPhones and other devices. The video transcoder features basic subtitle support, chapter selection, picture de-interlacing, cropping and scaling, and multiple built-in presets, such as AppleTV, iPhone, PSP and Xbox 360. Users that prefer not to use the included pre-sets can customise the output file's video CODEC, frame-rate (FPS), target size, average bit rate and much more. The most recent release, however, no longer includes internal DVD decryption. Instead, HandBrake dynamically loads VLC's copy of libdvdcss, provided that it's in the Applications folder. (Download - License: GPL)

Next: Preference Panes

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